Back in December in the middle of the pandemic,
I hit a new low.
I was 40 years old, single,
and still mending a broken heart
one year later.
My fiancé decided that she needed to be alone.
Who would blame her?
Not being able to travel abroad or even inside Japan
meant that I would be spending the holidays completely alone.
The lockdown gave me plenty of time to sit on the couch,
dwell on I what I did wrong to screw up my life,
and continue to feel sorry for myself.
I passed the time reading Oprah's favorite self-help books,
mailed to me from a loving and concerned friend:
"The prison is in your mind. The key is in your pocket."
- 12 lessons to save your life (ok! point taken)
meditating twice a day,
and taking hot baths to ease all my tension.
When that wasn't enough,
I numbed my negative emotions with all varieties of cheesecake,
ranking which one was best.
Little did I know,
one short month later,
my life was about to change completely.
It was the week I had to teach my second grade class online.
Just by chance, I happened to notice that Aya was doing an Instagram Live
After my class on Zoom was done, I started watching the replay on my phone
inside the Yamanote train.
By the time I was in Harajuku, ironically walking right in front of Zara,
Jason and Aya had announced some sort of contest.
They were going to choose five lucky guys and five lucky girls
to participate in the beta version of their one-month 'Up Your Style' online transformation.
With tell-tale goosebumps running up and down my back and arms,
I already knew this was my chance.
No doubt in my mind–
and no going back without regretting it for the rest of my life.
And I personally knew Aya Jean, celebrity style coach, model agency CEO, TEDx speaker, and author,
and what she was capable of!
I was about to enter the deep-end, water
waaaaaay over my ears.
Oh. My. God.
Staring down at my phone on the sidewalk in Omotesando,
I was messaging Jason, which I couldn't believe.
By that afternoon, he had texted me back–
"Hey man. Good news. You're in!"
Aya had approved of my application
and I was officially a winner.
I wrote back to Jason:
"Honestly, I don't know exactly what I'm getting myself into!"
Inside my heart, I knew
that this one decision was going to change my life for good.
And boy, (haha!) I had no idea of just how much it would.
It was surreal.
When I got to do my one-to-one coaching session with Aya,
I was so fricken nervous
as you would expect from a shy guy like me.
Thank god I wasn't shaking–
been there, done that scene before!
I told Aya the first time I interviewed her for my blog in 2018,
it took me months to get up the courage.
Since we're both in Tokyo, she offered to do our one-to-one coaching session in person.
Her previous clients were billionaires, CEOs of multinational companies, and global change makers.
'Why me? Who am I?'
'How did I ever get this lucky?'
After having left my career for two years to move to Sapporo,
this experience was something I could never afford.
Almost immediately, Aya picked up from my language
that I didn't feel that I deserved this opportunity at my core.
I didn't feel worthy, I hadn't earned it, and I hadn't succeeded at anything before.
Aya caught my limiting beliefs straight away
and taught me that I did.
For me, I knew this makeover wasn't about the right clothes,
getting a snazzy haircut,
or showing off my lubed up Abercrombie and Fitch six-pack abs
It was about confidence,
with my clothes on,
and me feeling good.
It hit me that I had never truly learned to love myself,
deep down inside.
For all those years of inner suffering,
and caring so much about what other people think,
I only wish I had sooner,
but this was my journey.
Post break-up on the receiving end,
my feelings of self-worth were down scraping the gutter.
After my last five-year relationship, even one year later,
I didn't have the courage to get back in the game
and potentially get rejected and hurt all over again.
Meeting girls, going on dates, I didn't know how.
I joined Bumble, only to repeatedly get ghosted–
what the hell!
Something inside of me felt broken and dull.
But lucky for me,
Aya saw inside of me what I had been blind to see
and I'm so grateful.
Don't stop! Please continue reading, and hear me out.
She's not my guru that I worship and kiss on her sexy feet and manicured toes
or some Tony Robbins-like action figure of fashion!
She's a real human being
who made me feel handsome,
smile, and feel good.
Yeah, I don't know, maybe it sounds "oh, gag me" and cliché–
but to be brutally honest, it had been awhile.
She pointed out the possibility, unimaginable until now,
that she saw in me.
It was such a gift,
the greatest any teacher can give:
unlocking my true potential.
She opened a space for me inside her big heart so I could heal.
Maybe that's not what you expect from a style coach,
but that's Aya. It's for real.
One month later, being able to walk into any cafe and talk to cute girls,
yeah it's fun, it's exciting for awhile (ok, still is)
but it was just icing on the cake.
For me, what I wanted was to feel good about myself.
I wanted to feel normal
and be the real me,
not the scared, little boy who was hiding inside.
After going through this whole transformation thing,
some close friends expressed their concern.
You don't need to change.
There are already girls out there who are attracted to you
exactly the way you are.
We loved the old Matt. You were sweet and so nice.
You looked cute in your oversized, baggy shirts,
those black ones that you always wore.
Now you wear all those tight-fitting shirts
but don't you get it? Wake up!
You were already handsome before."
I thought a lot about what those friends said and who I really am.
And I think they're right.
I don't need to change who I am
The thing is, this is the catch:
even if I was handsome,
I didn't feel handsome before.
Yeah, I'm sure other people liked me because I was so soft-spoken,
considerate, and kind.
The problem was, I didn't like me
a lot of the time.
I didn't speak to myself the same way,
like I was someone
I never once said to me,
"Matt, stop being so hard on yourself all the time."
For those of you who are still thinking this is all superficial, vain, and narcissistic,
I get it.
I thought about it too.
Looking back, I didn't see the value of a getting a fancy haircut.
I mean, it's hair.
Seriously, what's the big deal?
First, I had to erase those thoughts and beliefs
and start my brand new life with a beginner's mind.
Buying the right clothes,
I wasn't that interested because I didn't know how.
We don't learn this stuff in school!
Now I see that wearing nice clothes is just a tool for my growth.
It's like being an actor.
When you put on Superman's cape
and look in the mirror,
you start to feel like him.
you start acting like him too.
Aya has all of her clients chose someone sexy to emulate.
I chose the name Maverick from Top Gun.
No, I don't look up to Tom Cruise,
especially since we're about the same height–
which growing up, always made me feel of lesser value and self-conscious.
Top Gun was a metaphor for me,
getting back in the cockpit.
This was me writing my comeback story
and having courage.
Aya encouraged me to go to new places, where no one knows me.
"When you meet new people, be Maverick.
Ask yourself, 'What would Maverick say? What would he do?' "
I never gave up being Matt,
By being Maverick, I gained confidence and learned to take risks.
I approached and talked to those people that I always wanted.
The old Matt would have talked himself out of it,
making up excuses that those special people
wouldn't want to be bothered.
The reason I'm sharing all this
which is all pretty personal and embarrassing,
is I see the "old me" in so many young people that I meet.
I can see it in their eyes with less sparkle
that they've been beaten down by life.
We walk around with smiles on our faces,
to pretend like we're so happy
for photos to post on social media.
But our iPhone screens reflect the truth
when no one is looking,
that our lonely souls
have been trapped inside glass prisons
that no one sees or talks about.
I don't know about you,
but that was my story.
I also wrote this to thank Aya for everything that
she's done for me.
Thanks to her, I learned how to be confident, to be genuine,
and genuinely happy.
She saw the flicker of light that glows in me
well before I put on any stylish clothes.
To honor her as my teacher,
I radiate my light brightly from now on
so I can share it with others, like you.
We are put on this Earth to shine,
not just survive.
Aya gave me the key to
escape my glass prison.
Now we can both laugh at the "old me".
The door I thought was locked closed
had been wide open the whole time.
Happy Birthday, Aya! ! !
Learn more about Aya Jean's programs here:
to learn more about upcoming "Up Your Style" Courses
and your opportunity to shine.
Everyone deserves a fresh start.